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Alicia Blain

Management


I want to first start out by thanking my colleague, Susan Whitcomb, a wonderful career coach and President of the Career Coach Academy for sending me this article in the Business Insider written by Vivian Giang titled:  ”If You Want to Retain The Best Young Workers, Give Them A Mentor Instead of Cash Bonuses“.  According to the article, in a recent annual Global CEO Survey  conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, 20-somethings, also known as Gen Y/Millennials rated training and development way above cash bonuses as their first choice in benefits.

The research that I did this past year validated the results from the survey.  As I interviewed 20-somethings that had been working from one to five years, over 80% had either left a job or were aggressively looking for one.  Why?  All of them were shocked by the reality they faced when they started working.  None of them were prepared for it and all of them wished they had known ahead of time so that perhaps they would have asked better questions during the interview to determine if there was a good fit. But even if they still had to take a job regardless of fit, they all felt that knowing would have helped with a better transition.

What was shock #1 for these Gen Yers?  Having to report to bad bosses and/or not having mentors they could go to.  In my new e-book, New @ Work:  An Insider’s Survival Guide to a Crazy Workplace,  I give new hires some probing questions to ask during an interview so they can determine if their prospective employer embraces mentoring and whether or not their next boss has “horrible boss” characteristics.

In my experience having worked as a corporate executive for over 25 years,  I find that new hires don’t take enough advantage of the interview process.  The interview provides a great opportunity to get to know important things about the organization and the person who will be your boss.  Too often, young interviewees are so concerned about making a good impression that they either don’t ask a lot of questions or ask very predictable ones. 

Interviewers have typically been through hundreds of interviews and usually have heard the same questions being asked over and over again.  A way to stand out is to ask them questions that make them think, that get them out of their comfort zone.  As long as you ask it in a non-threatening manner and from a place of curiosity, the interviewer will most likely remember you from the countless other interviews he or she has had.  In today’s world, young interviewees need to find creative ways to get on the employers radar preferably before the interview but certainly during the interview.

As I was reading the Insider Edition article, I was noticing some of the comments that were  posted.  Many of them appeared to be from Gen Yers who disagreed with the survey results and rated cash bonuses over mentoring.  Although this is understandable in today’s unstable economic times, I believe it ultimately backfires.  It’s a case of being penny wise and pound foolish.

Having had mentors and being a mentor during my long career, I can attest to the huge benefits mentors provide.  They are able to fastrack your career.  They show you where the landmines are located, what to do and not do and how best to stand out and get noticed.  Mentors provide a shortcut to becoming successful at work.  Although that may not be as appealing as a cash bonus in the short term, I can vouch that it has much better financial benefits in the long term. 

Mentoring has allowed me to make strategic moves in my career that have ultimately gotten me  higher increases,  better bonuses and more importantly, positioned me to become a high performer which is the cream of the talent crop in an organization. Cash bonuses could not have done that and eventually, those bonuses would probably shrink without a “Success GPS”  that only a mentor can provide.

In my e-book I give some advice on how to find mentors in or outside an organization if someone finds him or herself working for a bad boss or an organization that doesn’t foster mentoring.  Mentoring is that important to your career whether you are 20-something or 50-something.

When you have a good mentor, the cash will come.  Without one, it’s a rocky road.

In today’s USA Today, an article titled:  College offers scholarship for Twitter ‘essay’   written by Luke Kerr-Dineen and Natalie DiBlasio caught my attention.  The University of Iowa held a contest worth $37,000 – the price of a full scholarship to their business school – for prospective students to submit a Twitter entry in place of a second essay.  That means that students would have to get pretty creative with 140 words in order to win the contest.

I thought that was a great example of the type of experimentation that is needed today in both universities and corporations.  As usual, the article highlighted the voice of some detractors that were not in agreement with the experiment.  I find that to be the typical reaction that plagues the leadership in many organizations today.  It’s the need to hold on to the “tried and true” instead of the “trial and error”.

Is it just me or does anyone else question  the intensive focus that is placed on the essay part of the college/MBA applicaiton process by most parents today.  Every one of my Boomer friends who has had a child apply for college has been intimately involved in the application process. Some of them more so than their children. Some have hired professional writers and editors to “review” (read redo) the essays their children prepare.  Most have spent countless hours perfecting the essays.  As Jodi Schafer, the University of Iowa’s director of MBA admission says, this intense focus on the essays has made them “unoriginal and often highly edited”.  I couldn’t agree more.

Doing something creative like the University of Iowa’s MBA program  is doing has 2 advantages:

  1. It gets people comfortable with trial and error.  The University of Iowa had no idea whether this experiment would work or not but you can be assured that going through it will give them a ton of ideas and ways to perfect it the next time or do something different.  They didn’t let the risk of failure stop them.  More universities and companies need to adopt that way of thinking if innovation is going to thrive in the future.
  2. It utilizes 21st Century tools.  Instead of relying on contest tools that were used in the past, the University decided to use the twentysomethings tool of choice to challenge them. After all, these are the tools this generation is comfortable with and will undoubtedly keep using as they get older.  As organizations bring in twentysomethings and begin to tackle the challenge of grooming them to be 21st Century leaders, they will need to get creative in how to employ these tools.  Shutting them down and prohibiting their use may not be the optimum reaction to effectively embracing innovation in the form of new tools.

It’s refreshing to read about how some universities are finding creative ways to deal with the challenge of adapting to the 21st Century.   The article highlighted other creative ways organizations are using social media in contests to help students find funding alternatives for college. It’s a win-win for both the students and the organizations that choose the scary path of experimentation.

What about you?  What new ideas are you trying in the workplace today?  Are you holding on to the tried and true or venturing into the trial and error?  Take a page from the University of Iowa: don’t just think outside the box.  Throw it out and see what new idea takes its place.

Yesterday I was reading an article that referenced a survey conducted by Mercer  indicating that over 30% of employees are disillusioned and disengaged at work . For Gen Yers on the job, the number increases to over 40%.

The interviews I held with Gen Yers this past year validates the results of the Mercer survey.  In fact, I found that over 80% of the Gen Yers I interviewed had already left an unsatisfying job or were aggressively looking to leave.

But here’s what I find most baffling.  As I work with business leaders who want to get the most out of their Millennial staff, I find there is no desire on their part to change their way of leading or try something different.  A surprisingly large group of business leaders still believe that the Millennials are the ones who are going to have to adapt to the way organizations work.   I find that so many leaders are disillusioned themselves and are just plain tired of the corporate grind.  They have no desire or incentive to try something different, to capture the minds & talent of their Gen Y staff. Many of them have gone as far as to tell me that they are absolutely NOT going to “rock the boat”.  They are desperately holding on, keeping things the same until they can retire.

I find that to be sad and troubling.  By 2014, it is estimated that 50% of the workforce will be made up of Gen Yers yet they will be reporting to bosses who are holding on to the status quo and are not that motivated to engage & retain their young staff.  Many of them turn a deaf ear when it comes to understanding why Gen Yers are unfamiliar to them as new employees.  And even more interesting than that is that many leaders show a disconnect between how they raised their own Gen Y children and what they expect from them as employees.

Here’s an example. Recently, I was working with a manager who talked constantly about how involved she was in her college children’s lives.  She explained how she researched the universities they attended, talked with the dean and other assorted faculty & staff at the various colleges they were considering and countless other details that showed how involved she was in their selection and in their lives.  She didn’t think anything of her deep involvement in her children’s decisions and the ramifications that would later have.  After all, if someone is THAT involved in making decisions on behalf of her children, how can her children be expected to do things on their own.

While I worked with her, she was constantly receiving texts from her children & responding to them.  She called them often & researched things for them.  So you’d think that someone like that would have a lot of understanding and tolerance for Gen Yers that reported to her.  Not at all.  She constantly complained about how lazy & unmotivated her young staff was.  She was frustrated at how much time she had to “waste” holding their hand through every minor detail of their work.  She was appalled at their work habits but fully expected them to “get with the program” and figure things out themselves.  After all, no one ever showed her how to get things done.  She had to figure it out on her own and so do they.

See the disconnect?  Like my client, many Gen Y parents were and are heavily involved in their children’s lives. But when these parents put on their “leader/manager”  hats at work, they expect Gen Yers to miraculously figure things out on their own.  But how can they when all their lives Gen Yers have had hands-on advisors helping them every step of the way?

Unlike other generations of young workers, Gen Yers have many more employment options than existed in the past.  Many leaders mistakenly believe that with the recession Gen Yers are going to have to conform & “get with the program”.  They may do that temporarily but here’s something you probably don’t know about your Gen Yers that you would if you spent any time trying to get to know them.  Many Gen Yers have side gigs.   I believe Pamela Slim, author of  “Escape from Cubicle Nation” calls them side hustles.  In their spare time, Gen Yers are following their passion, volunteering in non-profits, working part-time at a home-based business.  The more disengaged they are at work, the more effort they’ll put into their side hustles.

They also have options around the companies they work for.  There are many successful companies that have been started by Gen Yers that are attuned to the needs to Gen Yers & are extremely attractive to them. Think Google, Facebook and many in the non-profit world such as Invisible Children.  And we haven’t even talked about the unprecedented access to angel funding & venture capital that is available to someone with an idea, a lot to offer and working for a boss who doesn’t care.

So my advice to leaders out there is this: If you want to attract and keep the best of  Gen Y talent and prepare them to lead effectively in the 21st Century instead of the 20th Century, let go of the status quo and stop holding on until you retire.   We owe it to our children, your young staff to give them the tools they need to be the great leaders of the future.

When we graduate college and start looking for our first job, we rarely think about our relationship with our boss.  After my interviews with young people this past year, many of them indicated that they actually always assumed they’d have bosses who’d mentor them and guide them through their career.

Nothing can be furthest from the truth.  Here’s an insider secret:  As a college grad in your first job, you have a higher chance of working for someone who isn’t a very good mentor nor is interested in becoming one.  Many of today’s managers are overworked, stressed and dealing with their own career issues. They don’t have any time left over to dedicate to their staff. Some managers are simply not mentoring types at all and try to avoid that part of their role.

The good news is that your boss doesn’t have to be the one you turn to for mentoring.  Once you start working you will quickly find out who are the managers in the organization that not only like mentoring but that find the time to do so.  Those are the ones you want to align yourself with and pick one of them as your mentor.

Believe it or not, the interview process provides you with a unique opportunity to ask questions of your prospective boss to see if he or she would be a good mentor and a good fit for your personality.  As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs,  there are a lot of batty bosses out there. All of us have different tolerance levels for the different types that exist.  Wouldn’t it be better to know ahead of time whether you may be working for one or not? Most college grads don’t grab this opportunity because they are focused on making a good impression on the employer.  Although that is very important, it is equally important to ask probing questions as well.

Here are 5 good questions you can ask your prospective boss to determine what type of boss he is. 

1. Give me an example of a famous leader you admire and what are the traits you admire about him or her?

2. Give me an example of someone you’ve mentored in your team and what you liked and didn’t like about it?

3.  How would your employees describe you?

4. What are your top 3 pet peeves?

5.  What are 3 things you enjoy about leading your team and 3 things you don’t enjoy?

From the responses, you’ll get an indication whether your future boss is a good and caring boss. If (s)he is, you hit the jackpot! Count your blessings . Do everything you can to get the job and stay with him for as long as you can. If they don’t, well, welcome to reality. You have to ask yourself these questions:

  • What batty boss type is he? Is it one of the types I can tolerate?
  • If it’s not a tolerable type for me, is the job opportunity worth the aggravation of learning to deal with that type of boss?
  • If so, what steps can I take now to prepare myself to handle this type of boss so I don’t derail my career?

The best way to excel in your first job is to be as prepared as possible so that you are not shocked at the world of work and lose precious time trying to figure it out.  While others are doing that, you will be focusing your effort on creating value and showcasing your skills as a high performer.

Drumroll, please…  The last & what I consider the worst of the 5 batty bosses at work is Mr. Snarly.

This is the angry, moody, obnoxious boss who spends his day screaming at everyone, regardless of whether it’s his team members, his assistant, his kids or the barista at Starbucks. He loves belittling people in meetings and has absolutely no manners or delicacy. He thrives on intimidation. Reporting to him keeps you constantly wondering when his tirade will fall on you.

Certainly not a fun person to work for.  It will amaze you how many Mr. Snarly’s still exist in the workplace today.  You would think with all the leadership advice out there & the money companies spend on mentoring their leaders & managers that a Mr. Snarly could never be allowed to exist & wreak havoc at work.  But they do.  And chances are, you will run into one if you are not already reporting to one.

That’s why it’s so important to ask probing questions during an interview especially for those first entering the workplace. Working for a Mr. Snarly right out of school is almost harmful to someone new to the grim realities of work. A young employee is not savvy enough or experienced enough to deal with Snarly’s tirades & unprofessional behavior. There are many seasoned professionals that can’t deal with that type either. But the point is to try & flush that out before you take the job.

If you don’t want to get caught working for Mr. Snarly, you need to ask probing questions when interviewing with your prosepective boss.  The person the position reports to has the ultimate decision in who gets hired. Here’s a insider tip. Most prospective bosses have interviewed hundreds of candidates over the years. They know that young people are  more focused on impressing them. They know that young candidates don’t know the corporate realities of being an insider.  After years of interviewing young people, they already know by heart the types of questions you will ask them – questions that are meant to impress them with your knowledge. 

What they don’t expect is for you to be a savvy interviewee & ask them questions like experienced candidates do. On the rare occasion a young person asks probing questions, the prospective boss immediately takes notice. I know I did when I interviewed.  Here is a person that is making the boss think about the answer instead of asking a question everyone else asks. This person will automatically stand out from the throngs of other interviewees they will see.  And that’s what you want.  You want to stand out & ultimately get the job.

So here are some questions you can ask your potential boss to make him think & take notice of you.

  • Can you describe your leadership style?
  • Give me an example of a famous leader you admire.
  • What are your top 3 pet peeves?
  • Do you enjoy mentoring your staff?
  • Give me an example of someone you’ve mentored in your team and what you liked and didn’t like about it.
  • How would your employees describe you?
  • What are 3 things you enjoy about leading your team and 3 things you don’t enjoy?

You need to listen carefully to the responses given since that will give you clues as to the type of person you will be reporting to.  Now that you know the list of batty bosses you can be better prepared.  You may hit the jackpot & find that you will work for a great boss.  If so, it is even more critical for you to do everything you can to stand out & get the job.  Great bosses are rare to find & when you find one, you want to work for them as long as you can.

If you currently work for a Mr. Snarly & can’t stomach his outbursts, now you have the questions you need to ask in your new job search.  Don’t get caught by surprise again.  For those college graduates interviewing for their first jobs, stay out of Mr. Snarly’s clutches.  Ask probing questions & know what you’re getting into.  The more you know, the less job shock you will experience when you start working. That means the quicker you can focus on making an impact on the inside & moving your career forward.  Instead of a deer in the headlights, you will walk into the spotlight with confidence & knowledge.

Have you worked for Mr. or Ms. Stupe?  Stupe is another Gen Y addition & it’s pronounced Stupee.  Short for Stupid. 

Yes, believe it or not,  you may work for a boss that’s not the sharpest tool in the shed.

When I started my career, there was a saying, “Screw up to move up.”  Do any fellow Boomers remember that saying? We’d use it every time an incompetent person got promoted. Back then, like today, it is often easiest for a company to get the stupid person out of the day-to-day and out of the way by promoting him. Not a smart move, but it happens. Mr. Stupee is ineffective running the team. Somebody else, usually a direct report(s), is the brains of the operation and allows Mr. Stupee to get away with his incompetence.

Discovering that you work for Mr. Stupe was shocking back in the day & it’s even more shocking today.  This is the type of thing most young people don’t realize when they are interviewing for a job.   Because they don’t know what awaits them as insiders, they don’t know what to ask  to try & find out.  It’s so important to ask the questions.  Not only is it eye opening & valuable to know what you’re getting into but did you know it gives interviewees a leg up in the interview process?

More  about that in our next & last post in the series.  Batty boss #5: Mr. Snarly – the worst of the bunch.

Mr. Sleepless in the office.  That’s batty boss # 3.

This is the workaholic boss. You will get an email from him at 2:00 a.m. and he calls you from the office at 7:30 a.m., wondering why you aren’t in the office. His standards are pretty high and he’s not very forgiving with anything less than your best. If he’s putting in all those long hours, you should be too. If you aren’t, you will quickly get on his radar. These types are usually over-stressed, burnt out and impatient. They are tough to work for and are not very understanding of the personal demands or issues their employees may be facing.

So here’s a confession.  In my early years as a manager,  I was a Ms. Sleepless.  I’m one of those people that loves to work & can work non-stop if I’m not careful.  Early on in my career I expected my team to be working alongside me.  I had the attitude that “if I did it, you could do it, too”. With time, I realized I was burning out my team and myself.  Just because I liked to work non-stop did not mean I should & it certainly didn’t mean my team should either.  In fact, it wasn’t productive to do that.  It was a painful lesson to learn because I lost a lot of great people who got tired of working for such a work horse. 

In fact, the lesson was delivered by Nick, someone who worked for me a long time ago.  A brave soul who decided to speak up & share what everyone in the team was feeling.  Why did he do it?  Because he took the time to observe me and to see what made me tick.  For weeks before he approached me, he watched how I reacted to information and the best way to deliver that information in a way that was well received by me. He noticed that even though I was a workaholic, I was open to feedback from the team.  I was tough but I listened.

Nick could see that I had the potential to be a good boss if I just lost the Ms. Sleepless tendencies. So he spoke up.  He delivered the difficult message in an objective, non-judgmental way that I could relate to & digest.  And I did. Nick’s plan worked.

When I asked him how he knew his risky move wouldn’t backfire on him, his response was priceless.  He said he wasn’t sure it would work or not but he knew that by not saying anything, things would not change.  I’ve never forgotten what he said to me.

He said, “You are the gatekeeper of my career.  Good or bad, that is the reality. If I want to advance I have to make the relationship work.  To do that I had to figure you out.  Once I did, everything else fell into place”.  It’s a win-win for both of us.

And it was a win-win.  Because your boss – batty or not – is the gatekeeper of your career, it behooves you to figure him out instead of expecting it to be the other way around.  When you take the initiative to do so, the options of how to handle his battiness will surface.  You’re in control, not the other way around.

Next up, Batty # 4: Mr. Stupe (pronounced Stupee).

 

So the next type of batty boss I’ve observed is Mr. Schmingle. I have to admit that I had another name for this type but the Gen Yers I spoke to suggested other names & I chose this one.  I love what it means & how it sounds.  

According to Gen Yers, a schmingler is someone who spends his time schmoozing and mingling – schmingling with everyone.

Mr. Schmingle wants everyone to feel good and so he tells you what you want to hear. The problem is everyone is hearing something different. Things get so convoluted you don’t know fact from fiction. His inability to be straightforward makes people question his honesty and intentions. You simply don’t know where you stand with him.

Have you worked for a Mr. or Ms. Schmingle?  Probably.   I have and it’s one of the most annoying & difficult types for me to work for.  When you find yourself working for a batty boss, the first thing you need to do is get your venting out of the way. It’s a natural reaction for all of us to rail against a batty boss especially if he really rattles your cage.  It’s okay to vent – just don’t vent with your coworkers.  If you want to tweet about the latest bonehead thing the schmingler did… think again. If you want to throw darts at his picture & post it on your Facebook wall, it would probably be amusing to your friends but not a good idea either.

If you have to vent, call or text a friend (after work on your personal cell).  Just don’t do it at work near coworkers who are plugged in to the Gossip Network.  You know the Gossip Network, right?  It’s the rumor mill, the juicy stuff people love to spread around & gossip about.  It’s amusing to listen to the Gossip Network,  just don’t be a contributor.

Once you get the venting out of the way, it’s time to fight back but in a smart way not a belligerent one. If you don’t want your career to be derailed, then you need to figure out this particular breed of batty boss & work with him.  First thing you need to do is put your emotions aside. It’s hard to do at first but with practice, you can do it.  Next you need to be observant.  Who are the people in your team that get along with the schmingler or other batty breed?  What does batty like about these coworkers of yours? How do your coworkers handle batty? 

Make a point of observing your batty boss for the next few days.  Keep an open mind & see what makes him tick.  See who works best with him. In the next post, I’ll tell you why that’s important.

So how about you? Do you work for a schmingler?  What winning strategies have you used to get around the schmingliness & make the relationship work?

Next batty breed: Mr. Sleepless.  Can you guess what floats his boat?

I’ve been spending a lot of time with Gen Yers lately & so many of them are telling me how shocked & disillusioned they are when they enter the workplace.  I think that we can all relate to how surprised & often underwhelmed we were when we started working as young adults. I know I can.

With Gen Yers specifically, I think the shock is greater because they’ve always had a lot of support & guidance from their parents, educators & career counselors. In talking to Gen Yers who have made the transition from college to a career and have been working for a number of years, I find that a few things particularly shock them when they start to work.  One of the biggest is the expectations they have of  their boss.

Like  many of us once did, Gen Yers believe they will work for a boss who cares about them, wants to mentor them and helps them advance their careers. Yet the reality is that there are whacko bosses in corporate America – and they often prevail over the good ones. It’s one of the hardest & most disappointing realities we face as employees.  I remember how disillusioned I was when I worked for my first whacko boss.  Can you?

What I realized is how important it is to understand what types of crazy bosses are out there so you can spot them & learn how to deal with them.  Another hard reality of being an employee is that you will always have to deal with batty bosses.  It doesn’t matter what company you work for – the names will change but the battiness will remain.

In my experience I’ve found that there are 5 types of Batty Bosses. The first one that comes to mind is Mr. Scheemy. Of course, it can be a Ms.  or Mrs. Scheemy as well.

Just like the name implies, this boss is a schemer. He says he’s your champion and sees you going far in the organization. You work hard to show your commitment.

When the annual review arrives, he describes all the things he tried to do “for you,”  how he went to bat for you but couldn’t get you what he promised or what you had hoped. The truth is he never went to bat for you or anyone else. He’s no one’s champion but his own.

Sound familiar?  I’ve worked for a Ms. Scheemy & at first, the experience was not pleasant.   I complained, I was angry & was ready to quit.  Then a wise person in the company asked me this: “Do you think this company has exclusive rights on crazy bosses? So you quit & go work for another company.  What makes you believe you won’t find another Ms.Scheemy there?”

Wow.  Good questions and tough to answer.  He was right.  From what I could tell batty bosses were everywhere at work.  I had nightmares where I saw myself  job hopping from one company to another in search of the good boss that might never appear.  Not a good visual.

So I decided to take control of my career instead of putting it in the hands of Ms. Scheemy.  I’ll share how I did that in the next post when I talk about Batty Boss #2: Mr. Schmingle.

What about you?  Do you work for a Ms. Scheemy? Are you giving her control of your career or taking control back?

Hey, college grads… What questions are you asking in your  job interviews to find out if your boss is batty. Stay tuned to find out more about that, too!

Over the last few months I’ve been interviewing Gen Yers all over the country who have been working in corporate jobs spanning 1 to 5 years.  The chats have been unbelievable & as always, I love how open Gen Yers are about  things. It didn’t surprise me to find a large majority of them  – over 80% – were frustrated & disillusioned with the corporate experience. 

That’s a big number but I think that anyone who has worked in corporate for any amount of time can relate to how they feel & isn’t surprised by it. Through the interviews I began to hear a theme being repeated by the Gen Yers.  There were about 5 things that kept coming up as the most surprising for them to find once they were on the “inside”.  They believed there was a big disconnect between the perception they had of the company as an outsider through websites, brochures,etc & the reality of working as an employee.

Many of them repeated the same thing:  I wish I had known what to expect before taking the job.  They admitted that the  tight job market would have probably forced to take the job anyway . However, knowing what to expect, the “shocking truth” so to speak, would have spared them from spending so much time & energy trying to understand why .  That wasted time could have been better spent focusing on advancing their career & other important priorities.

The interviews led me to write the first of a series of ebooks.  I have just finished it & officially sent to my editor yesterday (Who-hoo!).  It’s called “The Top 5 Lies Told to Gen Ys“.   More on the book in future posts but for now, I’d like to hear from Gen Yers out there who have been working for some time.

What did you wish you had known about corporate life before you took your first job?  What shocked you the most about corporate when you took your first job?  Thanks for sharing…

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